The right is not right on race

Spewing vitriol and hatred, far-right conservatism is a threat to countries around the world

A spectre is haunting the world—the spectre of far-right conservatism.

Marx used similar words more than 150 years ago when introducing the Communist Manifesto, but for him, the spectre was Communism. Today, the opposite is true.

Despite the financial crisis, the return of state intervention in the economy and the waning wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the danger of right-wing scapegoating of minorities­—particularly Muslims—has returned, not just in its typical social form, but now with elected power.

Every country in Western Europe—with the exception of Greece, Spain and Cyprus—is now either governed by the right or dependent upon the support of the far-right.

The events of a few years ago now seem so long ago: the financial crisis, the bail-outs, the election of a liberal to the White House and the world’s positive reaction.

Today, it is not just commonplace but politically advantageous to dump all our problems on our minorities with talk of ‘controlling’ immigration, and most of all, painting all Muslims with the same blood-soaked brush.

In the United States, slinging racial and xenophobic epithets at Muslims is still acceptable in political discourse.

Politicians of the right have likened the building of an interfaith cultural center to revering the 9/11 terrorists. The most prominent members of the American right, from Sarah Palin to Newt Gingrich, have openly vilified a religious minority.

It is no secret that both of these politicians have their eyes set on running for President in 2012. The singling out of Muslims with religious opprobrium seems to be a first-class ticket to the Republican Presidential nomination.

While several prominent liberals did raise objections to the Palin-Gingrich rhetoric, the political discourse in the United States still allows American politicians to single-out Muslims.

They have been nefariously painted as un-American conspirers more interested in jihad and Hamas than in living a normal life.

It is a peculiarity, perhaps reducible to an American insecurity of foreign domination, that Muslims constitute only one per cent of the population, yet receive a disproportionate amount of attention from the media and vitriol from the right.

Neither immigration nor demographic change favour Muslims or Arabs in the United States, yet American conservatives have cultivated a targeted form of xenophobia without many Muslims around.

Western Europe, once a bastion of liberalism and secularism, fares no better. The number one social issue dominating the cross-national debate is immigration.

The question is not of Australian or Czech immigrants, but of “those” immigrants, who are not like “us,” do not share “our” values and who are fundamentally separate from “us.”

Those immigrants are the ones the European right—from Bern to Paris, Berlin to Stockholm—think should be “controlled,” condemned and ostracized.

Many of these politicians of the right, from the most prominent Islam-basher Geert Wilders (who’s Party for Freedom now holds the Netherland’s government’s fate in its hands), to former Berlin Finance Senator Thilo Sarrazin (who thinks Muslims pose an existential threat to Germany), combine a dangerous form of populism, bigotry and intolerance all while denouncing Muslims and claiming to uphold European and Western values.

The contradiction is apparent.However, many people do not see it as such.

Let’s get something straight: Wilders, Sarrazin, Gingrich, Jimmie Akesson (who’s far-right Swedish Democrats won almost six per cent of the vote on Sept. 23), Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France—and the other right-wing Muslim bashers are not all created equal.

They differ in their economic proposals, their foreign policy goals and the type of populism they engender.

However, they are all defined by one essential feature: Islamo-hatred. Not Islamophobia, which is the irrational fear of Islam, but a visceral hatred of Muslims, from which the phobia derives.

It is this phenomenon that has sparked the furor of even a slight demographic shift in Western Europe.

This return of the right can be explained, in part, by the decline of the left. A viable left-wing in the United States and Western Europe has all but disappeared.

A consensus has developed around economic principles such as privatization, free-trade and market solutions—the opposition to which seems highly anachronistic.

Even if set-aside, the left’s failure to capitalize on the recession and those right-wingers who helped cause it, the main cause of popular disillusionment comes from the sympathy that many on the left have towards Islamic extremism and terrorism.

It’s this sympathizing that has distanced those on the left from their democratic constituencies.

People simply do not see Islamic extremists as the new revolutionaries. Osama bin Laden is no Vladimir Lenin, and Islamism is no Marxism.

The result of left’s decline has created a vacuum in American and Western European politics, happily filled by populists and conservatives on the right stoking people’s passions and playing to their insecurities.

It is no coincidence that far-right ramblings have tilted towards the mainstream.

It is also no coincidence that the ascendance of the far-right is perfectly in line with an increase in unfavourable opinion towards Muslims in the West.

Burqa-banning in France and Belgium, Qur’an-burning in America, Minaret-banning in Switzerland—it all seems so familiar—a repetition of history.

Substitute Muslim with Protestant or Jew or Black or Atheist and the flagrant discrimination does not seem so surprising.

We should all fear the rise of a new kind of social tyranny that disparages a religious minority, just because that religious minority happens to share the faith of a handful of terrorists.

It is not just fundamental liberal values that are at stake here, but the very fabric of our civilization.

Without our values, our society is nothing more than a name to be written in history, perhaps with a footnote underscoring material progress and technology.

Whether we will remain complacent in the face of this new bigotry, and thereby become the grave-diggers of our civilization, only time will tell.

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